Patchwork Road with the Taisetsu Mountain range faintly in the background

In the heart of Hokkaido, lies a picturesque little town called Biei. The landscape that greets you here are the vast open fields & gentle rolling hills with the Taisetsu mountain range in view. A scenery that is charming, rustic, tranquil & sheer delight for city dwellers who run the rat-race with their constant companion… stress!

Mild Seven Hill

Patchwork Road (Patchwork no michi) is not really one single road but an area north-west of Biei. The drive is easy even though the roads are narrow & winding with hardly any signs or directions along the way until you are near the actual tree you are looking for. I guess our trusted GPS did a good job mostly but finding the locations of the trees requires a little gut feeling & a printed map comes in real handy.

Mild Seven Hill is especially beautiful at sunset

This location with a row of Larch trees was filmed in a Japanese tobacco ‘Mild Seven’ commercial in 1978 & has since become known as Mild Seven Hill. Tourists flock here to see the breath-taking scenery captured in the TV advertisement, turning it into a popular destination. Tracing a gentle curve of green above the hill in summer, these trees act as a natural wind-break protecting the crops & preventing soil erosion.

Ken & Mary Tree
Ken & Mary Tree

This giant 80 years-old poplar tree was made famous in 1972 after Nissan’s “Love Skyline” automobile commercial was filmed on location here. ‘Ken’ & ‘Mary Tree’ got its namesake from the characters featured in the advertisement & many older Japanese would recognise this particularly popular poplar!

Farmhouses in the Patchwork Road Area

Biei’s population is around 11,000 with agriculture & tourism as their mainstay industries. The average land cultivated per household is 19 hectares. This picture book perfect town is enchanting throughout the year. Snow capped mountains & contrasting bare soil in spring; beautiful flowers & blue skies in summer; crimson autumn leaves & bright yellow rape blossoms during fall & pure white powdery snow in winter.

Plowed Field

To enjoy this picturesque place best, it is recommended that you cycle or drive so that you may visit some of the flower fields (if they are in season) & have a look at the famous trees along the way. Another alternative if you are travelling on your own, is to book yourself on the Twinkle Bus sightseeing tours. Reservations can be conveniently done at all the JR railway stations across Hokkaido.

Parent & Child Trees

Patchwork Road oozes rural charm & a natural beauty that has attracted the attention of marketing professionals resulting in quite a few of these trees being used in commercials or for package label designs.

Parent & Child Trees

These two Oak trees stand together tall & proud sheltering a tinier Oak tree just like a pair of protective parents, hence the moniker… Parent & Child Tree.

Parent & Child Trees

This group of Emperor Oaks band together stoically on the plateau, withstanding the harsh winters over & over again. Soon new leaves will signal the arrival of Spring & they will be adorned with a crown of dark green foliage come Summertime.

Fields covered with Plastic Mulch create a practically weed free area around the plant reducing the need for cultivation except between the rows of plastic.

In Plastic mulching, a black or clear polyethylene film is installed into a field by a Specialized Mulch Application Equipment which works & shapes the soil as well. Plastic mulching reduces water loss from the soil through evaporation requiring less water during irrigation.

The use of plastic mulch improves the overall growth of the vegetation but it comes at a higher cost where specialized machines are used in the application of the plastic & trans-planters to efficiently plant the desired crops.

Other advantages of Plastic mulching include the reduction in leaching of fertilizer with the use of drip irrigation, improved crop quality where ripening fruits eg. strawberries are kept off the soil lessening fruit rot & also keeping fruit & vegetables clean. The covered soil decreases compaction & crusting caused by rain & sunlight, staying well aerated & oxygenated aids in microbial activity.

Plowed Field of Grayish coloured soil, a little different to the rest

Soil contains both living organisms & dead organic matter which gradually decomposes into black humus. Anaerobic bacteria thrive on organic matters for their food source & play a crucial role in the removal of iron & manganese pigments in wet soil.

Furrowed fields

The colour & texture of soil is dependent on various chemical processes acting on the soil. Weathering of geologic material, the oxidation & reduction of various minerals of soil especially iron & manganese, the biochemistry of the decomposing organic matter, climate, physical geography & geology influences the rate & conditions of which these chemical reactions occur.

All in a day’s work – Rotary Tillers making their rounds

Soil tillage prepares the ground for a suitable seed-bed; eliminates competition from weed growth; improves the physical conditions of the soil, loosening, compacting & pulverizing it. Cultivation also helps to remove & sometimes bury crop residues & fertilizer remnants found on the top soil.

Rotary Tillers

Tractors that come with air-conditioned cabins, computerized systems & hydraulics to make modern farming comfortable & efficient.

An aesthetic & colourful tapestry of bare Hokkaido soil

In Hokkaido, snow melting on the ground surface generally starts mid April & the farmers do not have enough time to do both primary & secondary tillage before seeding, as it requires two to three weeks work. Plowing is done in late Autumn, whilst rotary tillers or the power harrows are used in making seed-bed of fine soil in Spring.

Seven Star Tree

Seven Star Tree was featured on Seven Star cigarette packages back in 1976 & became synonymous with Biei. This interesting scenic spot is all about a lone Oak tree standing in a wide open field.

Patchwork Road Farms – Pastoral charms

During Fall, the contrast between the farmland and the hills covered in green is amazing. Roads seem to weave together the colourful fields, making a giant patchwork quilt when seen from the aerial view.

Last glimpses of the Taisetsu Mountain Range as we continue on to Asahikawa

I cannot agree more with the adage that “The Best things in life are Free!”. Just driving around this area in Biei & feasting my eyes on the plains, undulating hills, open fields & rustic farmhouses not only brings me closer to Mother Earth but also reinforces a feeling of beautiful, quiescence within & without.

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